Dietitian and Nutrition Career Overview
Dietitians and nutritionists work in places such as schools and hospitals where they create nutrition programs and oversee the preparing and serving of meals. They educate people on healthy eating habits and conduct research to prevent and treat illnesses and to encourage healthy living.
Clinical dieticians work in nursing care facilities, correctional facilities, hospitals, or in other institutions. Here they offer nutritional care by instituting nutrition programs and work with individual patients to determine specific nutritional needs. Patients suffering from illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, or obesity often work with clinical dieticians who are specialized in their area of care. Managing the food service department of an institution may also be done by a clinical dietician.
Community dietitians work in home health agencies, health maintenance organizations, and public health clinics. They educate people on nutritional habits that encourage good health and prevent disease. Community dietitians teach people how to grocery shop and how to prepare food for children, the elderly, and those with special needs. They develop individual nutritional care plans for specific nutritional needs.
Increased public interest in nutrition has led to job opportunities in food manufacturing, advertising, and marketing. In these areas, dietitians analyze foods, prepare literature for distribution, or report on issues such as the nutritional content of recipes, dietary fiber, or vitamin supplements. Recently, nutrition-related jobs are opening in fields such as marketing, food manufacturing, and advertising. This is due to the public becoming more interested in their personal health and nutrition. Nutritionists working in these jobs often write and distribute information on the analysis of foods and their nutritional content.
Management dietitians oversee other food safety workers and dietitians. Meal preparation and planning in large facilities such as prisons, healthcare facilities, schools, and company cafeterias is supervised by management dietitians. They are also responsible for enforcing safety and sanitation, hiring and training other workers, budgeting, preparation of reports and records, and the purchasing of equipment, food, and supplies.
A consultant dietitian helps clients with issues such as cholesterol reduction and weight loss. By administering nutrition screenings, they are able to analyze the individual needs of each client. These dietitians either own their own practice or work for healthcare facilities under contract. They are often employed by supermarkets, wellness programs, sports teams, or health-related businesses.
In 2002, there were around 49,000 nutritionists and dietitians working in the U.S. Jobs were in doctors’ offices, nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers, and hospitals. About 20% of nutritionists worked for the local and State governments, usually in health departments or correctional facilities. Other workers were employed by special food services who supply food services to company cafeterias, airlines, colleges and universities, and correctional facilities. The remainder of jobs was in elderly community care facilities, educational services, home healthcare services, the Federal Government, and family and individual services.
Dietitian and Nutrition Training and Job Qualifications
Taking high school courses in health, chemistry, biology, communications, and mathematics is good preparation to become either a nutritionist or dietitian. To work as a nutritionist or dietitian, the minimum of a bachelor’s degree in and area like food service systems, dietetics, or foods and nutrition is required.
Each State differs in requirements needed to practice. Some require licensure, certification, and/or registration. Many States require the Registered Dietitian credential, an award given to those who pass a certification exam given by The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association.
The Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) recognized around 230 accredited dietetics bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in 2003. Advanced degrees are often needed by those wanting to work in public health, have an advanced clinical career, or conduct research.
There are two ways to gain supervised practice experience. One way requires 900 supervised practice experience to be completed at one of the 264 accredited internships. Full time internships last from six to twelve months while part-time programs take two years to complete. The other way is to complete one of the fifty accredited coordinated programs. Programs that combine supervised practice experience with academic education take between four to five years to complete.
Dietitians have the option to specialize in areas like pediatric or renal dietetics. A number of dietitians leave the field and go into sales for food manufacturing, equipment, or pharmaceuticals. Career advancement for dietitians can lead to self-employment or to becoming an assistant, associate, or department director.
Dietitian and Nutrition Job and Employment Opportunities
Average growth is expected through 2012 for the employment of dietitians. Jobs openings are due to an aging, growing population that will need nutritional assistance in home healthcare agencies, hospitals, prisons, community health programs, nursing care facilities, and schools. The public interest in health education and workers leaving the field will also lead to job opportunities.
Employment opportunities are increasing in health practitioners and doctors’ offices, in food services contract providers, and in outpatient care centers. Opportunities are declining in State government positions and in nursing care facilities.
Limited employment growth is occurring as insurance reimbursement and coverage is inadequate for many dietetic and nutritional services. Also, workers are being replaced by workers such as food service managers, dietetic technicians, and health educators.